Judge released New Zealand extremist despite concerns

A court report about a man in New Zealand who was inspired by the Islamic State group warned he had the motivation and means to commit violent acts in the community and posed a high risk.

The report described the man as harboring extreme attitudes, living an isolated lifestyle, and having a sense of entitlement.

However, a judge’s job in July was to sentence the man for the relatively minor crimes he had committed at that time, not for potential future crimes. She decided to release him under the supervision of a mosque leader who promised to try and help.

The fears of authorities were borne out Friday when the man walked into an Auckland supermarket, grabbed a knife and stabbed six people, critically injuring three.

Because police continued to have deep concerns about the man, they had been watching him and following him around the clock. They were able to intervene and shoot him dead within 60 seconds of him beginning his attack.

The court documents begin to tell the story of why the man that authorities feared so much was able to roam free.

However, much of the man’s legal history — including even his name — remains subject to court orders preventing publication.

More pieces of the puzzle likely reside within that hidden legal history, including shortcomings in New Zealand terrorism laws, which experts believe are too focused on punishing crimes and inadequate in dealing with plots.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she is seeking to make the man’s full legal history publicly available as soon as possible.

Ardern said the man, a Sri Lankan national, first moved to New Zealand in 2011 and that security agencies began monitoring him in 2016.

According to a sentencing report from July, the man spent three years in prison for unspecified reasons.

This year, a jury found him guilty on two counts of possessing objectionable videos, both of which showed Islamic State group imagery, including the group’s flag and a man in a black balaclava holding a semi-automatic weapon.

High Court Judge Sally Fitzgerald described the contents as nasheeds, or religious hymns, sung in Arabic. She said the videos described obtaining martyrdom on the battlefield by being killed for Allah’s cause.

The judge said she rejected arguments the man had simply stumbled on the videos and was trying to improve his Arabic. She said an aggravating factor was that he was on bail for earlier, similar offenses and had tried to delete his internet browser history.

However, the videos didn’t show violent murders like some Islamic State videos and weren’t classified as the worst kind of illicit material.

The judge noted the extreme concerns of police, saying she didn’t know if they were right, but “I sincerely hope they are not.”

In the end, Fitzgerald sentenced the man to a year’s supervision at an Auckland mosque, where a leader had confirmed his willingness to help and support the man on his release.

The judge also banned the man from owning any devices that could access the internet, unless approved in writing by a probation officer, and ordered that he provide access to any social media accounts he held.

“I am of the view that the risk of you reoffending in a similar way to the charges upon which you were convicted remains high,” the judge concluded. “Your rehabilitation is accordingly key.”

Two months later, the man traveled from the mosque to the Countdown supermarket in the suburb of Glen Eden, tailed at a distance by police special tactics officers. Then he unleashed an attack that shocked a nation.